Before I get into more detail on the uniform construction process (and in this part I’ll be looking at the materials used for the coat, as well as some detail on a few accessories), I did want to mention that Man the Capstan had its first “gathering” of sorts—a briefing, if you will. We came together on September 9th for nearly three hours, and discussed the project, its present status, and where we hope to be in the near future. We also made some arrangements for an upcoming event for the Capstan Crew—as most of the costumes will be nearing completion by October 31st, Man the Capstan may be ready to debut the reproductions in public very shortly, and to a great location.
I won’t get into too much detail on what we have planned, as that’s for another blog post!
Back to the uniform, now (in case you missed it, here’s Part I). We started gathering supplies for the first R.N. reproduction in high summer. After we had received the patterns for the coats, we needed to find an appropriate material that would best reflect what was used historically. Back then, of course, the most accessible material (and the most practical) for military use was wool. Wool varied in quality, depending on how wealthy a given officer was, but the most common was broadcloth—contemporary broadcloth can be made out of nylon or polyester, but in England in our time period, it was made of heavy strands of wool. When I say “heavy”, mind you, I really do mean heavy. You put on a full dress coat, sans lace, you’re looking at eight to twelve pounds of cloth!
Ever in the pursuit of historical consistency, we took to the Internet and attempted to find some wool goods, specifically a broadcloth or coatweight wool. Unfortunately, not only is this material largely inaccessible for what we need, it’s also exceedingly expensive. For the yardage we needed, broadcloth was out of the picture. We took a trip to a fabric store in the city, hoping to find something cheaper, and happened upon gabardine—even more important, we found it in the precise colours we needed. Navy, off-white (an ivory kind of colour), and scarlet (for our intrepid Marine). Gabardine was far more affordable as well, and we could easily line the coats in order to capture the proper weight of broadcloth. A coat of this manner has to hang properly, and we thought we could achieve such an effect. You can see an example of the gabardine in the pocket-watch picture, to the right.
Before any serious cutting could commence, it seems fate struck and we hit jackpot. Our seamstress, on an outing to another fabric store, happened upon a heavy wool-nylon blend (80/20). It was navy, it was heavy, and it was perfect. It had the texture, appearance, and weight of a heavy-woven wool cloth. Thankfully, there was enough left (it was a clearance item) to sew one R.N. coat.
So the first coat was made out of the wool-nylon blend (you can see it being cut out, to the left) . The interior of the coat is lined with an ivory satin and ivory gabardine (the arms and torso are in the satin, while the tails are lined in the gabardine). The pants were a polyester blend (which is nice as far as wrinkles and creasing are concerned), and are also navy in colour. The waistcoat is gabardine (also lined in satin), and all told, every piece came together perfectly. More than anything we were increasingly impressed with the look and feel of the wool-nylon blend. It was sturdy and really fit the part.
Textiles aside, one of the most important part to the R.N. uniform is the gold and glitter. Of all the components for the R.N. uniform, the cloth and the lace were some of the most expensive. Lace is tricky—you can’t afford to be cheap (no pun intended, there) with the lace. It is such an iconic part of the uniform; the difference between a costume and a uniform, we soon found out, was the difference between cheap, fabric-store gold lace, and authentic metallic military lace.
We had a few choices here, as well. The Royal Navy used a variety of laces. In the late 18th century (ending sometime in 90s) the Navy used bias-and-stand gold lace—a gold metallic tape with a very unique pattern (of which the lace is known for). Towards the 19th century the Navy adopted a gilt wire lace (shown right). The bias-and-stand feels more to be threaded metal, whereas the gilt wire feels like woven wire. It’s sturdier, more difficult to work with, and very very expensive. We found some gilt wire for $22.00 CDN a metre, and we needed fourteen metres! That would be $310.00 for lace per uniform, which works out to about a grand on lace alone for the uniforms. That really wasn’t feasible.
So we opted for the bias-and-stand. It was still historically accurate, though perhaps a few years behind our intended period. The bias-and-stand proved to be easier to work with than the gilt wire (we actually procured some silver gilt wire for the Marine, but I won’t get into that right now) and has a certain charm of its own. The bias-and-stand was ordered from Military Heritage, a fantastic site that has a host of great supplies for reenactors and history enthusiasts. They’ve created uniforms and accessories for movie projects, documentaries as well as heritage work for the Government of Canada.
One of the greatest tools, we’ve found, has been eBay. The buttons for the coat (and the waistcoat) concerned us—many online sutlery and reenactment sites listed buttons as being quite expensive. When you need over thirty buttons per uniform, that can add up to be quite the unnecessary expense. Fortunately, eBay proved to be an invaluable resource. For our R.N. reproduction, we fount a lot of actual Royal Navy gold-tone buttons (featuring the King’s Crown)—we believe they date to the 50s, when Great Britain had a King. This was a relatively small expense, and we ordered enough buttons to cover both Royal Navy uniforms.
With the cloth, lace and buttons covered, I’ll save Part III for the sword, hat and boots! Stay tuned for more Captsan Updates here at Man the Capstan!